Underdogs fight it out in mediocre performance

  • 2005-06-15
  • By Justin Walley
RIGA - Latvia squeezed past an un-fancied Liechtenstein 1-0 on June 8, keeping their dream of playing in the World Cup Finals an outside possibility.

But it was a far from impressive performance in front of a near-capacity crowd of 8,000 at Riga's Skonto Stadium.

Imants Bleidelis, who currently plies his trade in Austria, scored the all-important winner after 16 minutes following a goal-mouth scramble. As the ball spun across a crowded penalty area, Bleidelis was presented with the chance to side-foot in from six yards out when the ball broke loose to him.

Many supporters might have expected Latvia to go on and thrash their opponents, but as Liechtenstein showed in their shock 2-2 draw with European Championship Runners-up Portugal last year, the team is no longer the 'pushovers' they once were.

Laizans came closest to extending the lead after 37 minutes, but was denied by Liechtenstein keeper Peter Jehle from 30 yards out.

The second half was a disappointing spectacle, with Latvia more often than not bogged down in midfield and unable to keep possession for long periods of time.

Indeed, Mario Frick was denied an equalizer by the Latvian keeper, Andrejs Piedels in the 79th minute as the Baltic team poured forward looking for a second. Soon afterwards, lively substitute Vits Rimkus headed just over the crossbar for Latvia as he raced onto a pin-point cross from Juris Laizans.

The points seemed to be in the bag, until with four minutes remaining, Liechtenstein forward Frick was presented with a chance to level the away side. With just the keeper to beat, Frick was unable to get the ball totally under control and shot tamely into Piedels' hands.

On the whole, it was a below-par performance from Latvia. Yet the team was none the less greatly encouraged by a bumper crowd of 8,000 against opponents that few Europeans would go out of their way to pay to watch. Latvia's next fixture is the crunch showdown with Russia at Skonto Stadium on Aug. 17. To date, the Latvian team has failed to take any points from the three teams above it in the Group Three table, and will be looking for maximum points from corresponding games with Russia and Slovakia if it is to have any chance of advancing to next year's finals in Germany.